Political news from Baptists! (updated)

Hey did you hear about today's political bombshell in Waco, Texas? It seems that Baylor University, the world's largest Southern Baptist educational institution, a school that has been rocked by a decade or two of infighting about the nature of Christian higher education, is about to name a major political leader as its new president.

We're talking about Kenneth Starr, the Texan who became a national figure because of his work as the independent counsel charged with investigating President Bill Clinton's unique views on gender roles in the workplace.

This is interesting, since I would think that a high percentage of Baylor alumni and faculty members would -- in their hearts -- have been wide open to the appointment of Clinton, who is a "moderate" Southern Baptist, after all.

I'm joking about Clinton. Maybe. I am sure that they would prefer another Southern Baptist -- Al Gore.

To give credit where credit is due, here's the top of the online Texas Tribune report that broke this story:

Waco is vibrating with a widespread but unconfirmed rumor that Kenneth Starr, the Texas-born lawyer who became nationally known as the independent counsel who ran Bill Clinton to ground, will be named president of Baylor University this week.

We were unable to get an official comment on Sunday evening, but sources in Waco said there would be an announcement as early as Tuesday (Monday's a national holiday).

One unusual twist: Starr isn't a Baptist. Baylor's a Baptist University and sticks to the faith when it comes to executive management. ... Pepperdine is a Church of Christ school, and Starr, whose father was a preacher, was raised in that faith. He was born in the north Texas town of Vernon and went through high school in San Antonio.

Now, kudos to the Texas Tribune for putting that Church of Christ angle that high in the story.

As a Baylor alum from a family with green-and-gold DNA, I am well aware that the hotter-than-hades wars that keep tearing Baylor apart have a strong political component. Just ask the Waco and Baylor leaders who tried to land the George W. Bush presidential library project. The campus is bitterly divided on crucial culture war and doctrinal issues, such as the sanctity of human life, the moral status of sex outside of marriage, etc.

But the Baylor wars are not, when push comes to shove, about politics. They are about faith, doctrine and the intellectual content of centuries of Christian history and tradition.

Now, how deep into the Waco Tribune story on Starr does one have to go to find out that he is more than a controversial political figure?

In the sixth paragraph, we do get this:

His appointment also represents a homecoming, of sorts, to Starr, who was born in Vernon, Texas, near the Oklahoma border, and grew up in San Antonio. He was son of a Church of Christ minister who was also a barber. Starr, whose wife was raised Jewish, has declared that he will join a Baptist church upon moving to Waco to take over the world's largest Baptist university.

So what other crucial religious information do we learn about Starr, about his faith and how it may or may not be linked to his views on higher education? During his years as a player in Washington, D.C., where did he go to church? Was he known as a strong evangelical, the kind of person sure to grate on the nerves of many people in the Baylor faculty lounge and in old-guard corners of the Baylor alumni?

Zero. Zip. Nothing. Nada. Niente.

One could conclude that some folks at the Waco Tribune think that the Baylor wars are, essentially, about politics.

The folks at the "moderate" Associated Baptist Press did find that church info on Starr, which is not hard to find.

Starr ... is a former federal judge and solicitor general of the United States, and he remains an attorney with the prominent Washington-based law firm Kirkland & Ellis. He is a longtime member of McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va., a conservative, non-denominational evangelical congregation in the Washington suburbs.

Maybe the religion ghosts will surface in tomorrow's stories about the world's largest Southern Baptist institution of higher learning. It could happen. If so, I hope that journalists strive to quote strong, candid, qualified voices on both sides of the Baylor wars. With that in mind, let me suggest that GetReligion readers might enjoy my reflections -- as a Baylor journalism graduate -- on an earlier Baylor controversy. You can click here for that.

Also, the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc sent me an art suggestion for this post, which I have not had the time to pursue. Perhaps someone out there in cyberspace could produce a nice image of a nuclear mushroom cloud -- think Anglican wars -- rising into the sky over Baylor's iconic Pat Neff Hall?

UPDATE: Hey, The Politico -- imagine that -- has a highly relevant quote from Starr himself placed very high in its report.

"With its great tradition in the Christian world and its growing international reputation as a research university that continues to care deeply about undergraduate education, Baylor is poised to have an increasingly expanding global impact," Starr said in a statement the school distributed Monday afternoon. "With the goals of educational excellence and Christian commitment remaining firmly before us, I count it a great blessing and honored responsibility to commit my talents and strengths to stand alongside the Baylor Family in writing the next chapter in this university's storied history."

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